Since Sports Illustrated writer Peter King’s aptly titled book Monday Morning Quarterback is about the sport he covers, the logical place to start would be with the Philly shout-outs that appear on his pages. So here goes:
• A sesame bagel at the Center City Starbucks cost 65 cents in 2000 but a plain bagel ran an extra dime. “That would mean, logically, that 100 sesame seeds cost minus 10 cents.
• King’s “Top 100 Players of Today” list includes No. 15 Matt Ryan (the Atlanta quarterback went to William Penn Charter), Eagles’ safety Quintin Mikell (51), QB Donovan McNabb (57), cornerback Asante Samuel (62) and offensive tackle Jason Peters (73).
• His “Top 100 Players of All-Time” list includes one-time Eagles Reggie White (No. 10), Chuck Bednarik (30), Mike Ditka (81) and Cris Carter (88).
When you’re the pre-eminent NFL reporter for the nation’s pre-eminent sports magazine, your opinions carry some weight. But in collecting columns, random tidbits and fun facts from years on the beat for the book, the thing that becomes clear about King’s work isn’t related to the sport he covers. He actually embodies a way for journalists to weather the perceived death of print.
King started writing his Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) column for SI.com in 1997, which was years before peers realized that online was future. By embracing a new format to share info and opinion, his workload went from 800-word columns to 8,000; it also served to install King as a multi-platform expert who did print, online, TV, radio and soon – I presume – hologram reports in space. And, he’s done so with a reporting work ethic that staves off questions about veracity, and a Rolodex chock full of stars and special-teams fillers.
What follows are some highlights of the conversation about the book, football and an evolving media landscape.
PW: In the book’s introduction, you write about your transition, via the Monday Morning QB column, from print-only to print-online-TV-etc. Was it difficult to leave the engrained “perfect sentence” worrying behind for volume, a quantity for quality transition?
Peter King: I’ve never been kind of guy to take 45 minutes to write a perfect sentence. I would take 45 minutes, and it’d still be a Peter King sentence. I have a lot of admiration for Gary Smith, Rick Reilly, Tom Verducci and all of the really great writers I have been privileged to work at the same place with. I’m not ripping myself, but I never got hired because I was a wordsmith. I got hired because I was a reporter, or for my work ethic.
Where the business is today, you have to have the ability to do multiple things. If you don’t expand, you will struggle in making it in media world.
When I was at Ohio University, I worked at the school paper. No TV, no radio. Being a reporter is what I wanted to do with my life. Never since 1979 did I think I would ever sit in front of radio microphone, or wear suit and be on TV. It never crossed my mind. But then Will McDunough (who started as a Boston Globe copy boy and was among the first sports writers to effectively transition to TV) happened. And the business changed with the Internet.
PW: You seem to be a perfect example of a print guy who embraced new media.
PK: I’m just willing to give new media a chance when it surfaces. SI asked me to start Tweeting and it certainly isn’t hard to take 10-15 minutes a day to do so, so I tried it. Just answering fans’ questions. Well, now I have 180,000 followers. I promote it, too. They put it in the magazine. Twitter put me on their recommended users.
With the online column, I got a head start, an advantage.
PW: What have you heard about the head-injury/concussions issue since the Oct. 28 hearing in Congress? (A U.S. House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about former NFL players being ravaged by the head-trauma they suffered while playing pro football; the issue has garnered increased coverage of late.)
PK: A lot of players are very interested in it. You saw it with [Brian] Westbrook [being held out of last week’s game vs. Dallas with a concussion]. I think it’s in the back of everybody’s mind that we need to err on the side of caution. If nothing else comes out of it, the players need to stand up for themselves. If they’re having headaches, they must assert their own rights.
PW: Do you sense players are fed up with the NFL monitoring both on- and off-field behavior? It almost feels as if the league as become a second-world nation with much power ceded toward ownership.
PK: I don’t really hear many (people talking about it). Most players, the law-abiding citizens who don’t get in trouble, are not concerned about the ‘NFL as Big Brother.’
PW: Is T.O. done?
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014